In 2020, Lancôme launched its Peut-Être fragrance, one of its most legendary fragrances, for the third time. Elena Prokofeva wrote about the new composition, housed in an exclusive bottle depicting the open gate of the Lancôme garden, with its attractive and sensual character, and today I would like to tell you about the vintage fragrance released in 1937.
Lancôme was founded in 1935 by Armand Petitjean and Guillaume d’Ornano (yes, the one who later founded Orlane and Sysley.) The name was invented by the wife of one of the founders, Elizabeth d’Ornano – it repeats the sound of the Lancosme forest, which is located in the heart of France, in Brenne. The first five Lancôme fragrances made their debut at the 1935 World’s Fair in Brussels: Tendre Nuit, Bocages, Conquete, Kypre and Tropiques. This was followed by Revolte in 1936, quickly renamed to Cuir de Lancome.
Peut-être Lancôme, created in 1937, became the seventh fragrance of the perfume house, and although its founding fathers were not perfumers, the fragrance is usually attributed to Armand Petitjean. The founders of Lancôme chose this name to praise youth and a moment of standing still, because Peut-être (“perhaps” in French) is both an important question and a humble answer, it’s not a promise or a rejection, but a sign of hope. The first Lancôme bottles were similar to each other: They were distinguished by gilded labels with names on beige boxes, embossed in gold. For example, the Bocages box featured a flying bird, Fleches had crossed arrows, and the Peut-être box was decorated with two hearts. Later all the Lancôme perfume boxes were unified, by using all the motifs on every box.
The 1937 scent was inspired by a French garden. A woman walking in a blooming garden, among fading lilacs and the first blossoming roses. Perhaps she’s waiting for a date in the garden? Perhaps she is in the garden because she said “Peut-être” yesterday to someone? Old advertising posters clearly show a sprig of blooming lilacs, a lily of the valley and a rose, a symbol of the House of Lancôme – in addition, the fragrance was part of the Clairs et Jeunes Lancôme family – Light and Young fragrances. In a vial of vintage perfume, with a red-brown amber liquid, the smell must have changed a lot since its release (the very first Peut-être Lancôme was discontinued in the early 1960s.)
But the vintage scent still meets you with a floral warmth with a subtle animalic tint: sweet-caramel and languid orange blossom with a sharp shade of neroli is its best part, and a beautiful warm rose excels a little less. A slight bitter shade is all that is left of the lily of the valley, the subtle sweetness of heliotropin and the sweet cinnamon spice are what remain of the lilac accord. But light orris powder and a sharp spicy facet in the heart of the fragrance stand out well, against the background of orange blossom and rose.
The smooth and soft oriental base of the original Peut-être Lancôme feels polished rather than fluffy; more silk than cashmere. It is an amber-musky accord in a rich vintage style, with a predominance of sweet flowing benzoin and natural musk over all the other base notes. This includes some patchouli, the woody character of which is supported by a cedar-vetiver accord. The sweetness of heliotropin is continued with an accord of tonka bean and vanillin.
Despite the considerable age of the perfume and its dark color, it does not seem to be harmed at all. For example, I have come across flower attars in India that smelled quite similar – I wonder if Indian attar masters developed this idea in parallel, or were they inspired by vintage French perfumes?